More details have emerged about the self-driving Uber car crash that killed a woman in Arizona earlier this year.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released its preliminary findings Thursday about the March 18 fatal crash.
Elaine Herzberg, 49, was struck and killed while walking a bicycle across a four-lane road in Tempe, Arizona. A 44-year-old Uber test driver was at the wheel of the modified 2017 Volvo XC90. The car was in autonomous mode and had been for the 19 minutes before the crash.
According to the report, the system first observed Herzberg through its radar and LIDAR sensors, which uses light to measure distances and objects, about six seconds before hitting her. At first the computer classified her as an “unknown object,” then as a vehicle, and then as a bicycle. Previous reports had come out that the software misclassified Herzberg.
It was only 1.3 seconds before hitting her that the system realized it needed to deploy the emergency brakes. The vehicle was going 43 mph in a a 45 mph zone.
The test driver is supposed to intervene and take action since the emergency brakes aren’t automatically applied under computer control, the report says. Apparently the system doesn’t alert the operator.
Video footage came out shortly after the crash and lines up with the NTSB findings based on Uber camera recordings. There were 10 camera views recorded in and around the vehicle. The test driver told investigators she was looking at the self-driving system interface, not cellphones — though those were in the vehicle — just before the crash.
An Uber spokesperson said in an email, “Over the course of the last two months, we’ve worked closely with the NTSB. As their investigation continues, we’ve initiated our own safety review of our self-driving vehicles program. We’ve also brought on former NTSB Chair Christopher Hart to advise us on our overall safety culture, and we look forward to sharing more on the changes we’ll make in the coming weeks.”
The federal investigation is ongoing as the safety officials determine the cause and put out a final report.
Uber is conducting its own investigation and review of its self-driving program. On Wednesday Uber shut down its self-driving program in Arizona. All of its testing locations have been suspended since the fatality. This summer Uber plans to resume testing in Pittsburgh, Toronto, and California, but in a more limited capacity.